SIXTY SECONDS WITH...
A minute’s all it takes to find out what makes a great guitarist tick. Before he jumped into his limo for the airport we grabbed a quick chat with the inimitable Uli Jon Roth.
Ex-Scorpions’ lead guitarist and genius of 30-plus-fret Air guitars, the great Uli Jon Roth.
there are very few amps that i like. for the past few years i prefer the blackstar artisan 100
GT: Do you have a type of pick that you can’t live without?
UJR: I now use my own signature picks which are very similar to Fender Extra Heavy.
GT: If you had to give up all your effects pedals but three, which ones would you keep?
UJR: I only need a good stage delay and a Digitech Whammy pedal.
GT: Do you play another instrument well enough to be in a band? If so what, and have you ever done it?.
UJR: Keyboards, bass and violin (but haven’t played that for years).
GT: If a music chart were put in front of you, could you read it?
UJR: Standard sheet music – yes. That’s my preference. I believe in scores, but I don’t like jazz charts, because I disagree with the use of their chord names.
GT: Do guitar cables really make a difference? What make are yours?
UJR: I’m no expert there.
GT: Is there anyone’s playing (past or present) that you’re slightly jealous of?
UJR: Paco de Lucia - perfect flamenco playing.
GT: Your studio is burning down: which guitar do you salvage?
UJR: I prefer not to contemplate this question.
GT: What’s your favourite amp and how do you set it?
UJR: There are very few amps that I like. For the past few years I prefer the Blackstar Artisan 100 for the stage. These are non-master volume amps which respond very well to my Sky Guitars which have an enormous output. I tend to get the best tone when the volume knob is at less than 50%.
GT: What kind of action do you have on your guitars?
UJR: My action has always been high (in the olden days insanely so). This is because I sometimes use very heavy downstrokes. Low action set-ups tend to collapse sonically when you are challenging them with strong dynamics, and when you are really laying into the strings which I sometimes do. High action gives you much more expressive control over the strings. The downside is that it is somewhat harder to play this way and it slows you down. But that’s a trade-off I willingly make for the gain in musical expression. I sometimes play fast, but speed is not at the top of my agenda. Musicality and sound is.
GT: What strings do you use?
UJR: I use my own signature Sky Strings by D’Orazio. I have always favoured a very light top string – 008 – because of the special vibrato response I get from them. They tend to ‘shine’ more sonically when playing lead. However, for pure rhythm playing a heavier string gets you a better response. My gauges currently are 008-011.5-014.5-025032-047-056.
GT: Who was your first influence to play the guitar?
UJR: My neighbour friend back in Germany, Bernd Kloss (now deceased unfortunately),
GT: What was the first guitar you really lusted after?
UJR: Fender Stratocaster.
GT: Can you remember the best gig you ever did?
UJR: Not sure.
GT: Worst playing nightmare?
UJR: Being musically uninspired and playing a useless amp on a bad sounding stage.
GT: What’s the most important musical lesson you ever learn?
UJR: Become the music. Become the note. Be free. Music without inspiration is without value.
GT: Do you still practise?
UJR: Rarely, but recently I’ve have had a renewed interest in fingerstyle nylon-string guitar, because I am currently exploring an eight-string flamenco Sky Guitar. This challenges me to enter into completely new territory. I’m finding it exciting to play this guitar and have played it quite a bit over this summer.
GT: Do you have a pre-gig warm-up routine?
UJR: None whatsoever. I tend to find it counterproductive to play too much. I tend to be best when I just delve right into it. A long time ago, I learned how to ‘get into the zone’ and nowadays I’m usually always in it as soon as I touch the guitar.
GT: If you could put together a fantasy band with you in it, who would the other players be?
i tend to be best when i just delve right into it. a long time ago i learned how to ‘get into the zone’
UJR: In Rock? Chris Squire on bass. Simon Phillips on drums. Rick Wakeman and Don Airey on keys.
GT: Present company accepted, who’s the greatest guitarist that’s ever lived?
UJR: Paco de Lucia.
GT: Is there a solo you really wish you had played?
GT: What’s the solo or song of your own of which you’re most proud?
UJR: Not yet written.
GT: What would you most like to be remembered for?
UJR: It’s a bit too early to think about that yet…